The Hydrogen Economy May Be Coming Through Your Cooker

About an hour’s drive from where this is being written there is a car plant, and as you drive past its entrance you may notice an unobtrusive sign and an extra lane with the cryptic road marking “H2”. The factory is the Honda plant at Swindon, it produces some of Europe’s supply of Civics, and the lane on the road leads to one of the UK or indeed the world’s very few public hydrogen filling stations. Honda are one of a select group of manufacturers who have placed a bet on a future for environmentally sustainable motoring that lies with hydrogen fuel cell technologies.

The hydrogen-powered Honda Clarity FCV, a car most of us will probably never see. Lcaa9 [CC BY-SA 4.0].
The hydrogen-powered Honda Clarity FCV, a car most of us will probably never see. Lcaa9 [CC BY-SA 4.0].
The trouble for Honda and the others is that if you have seen a Honda Clarity FCV or indeed any hydrogen powered car on the road anywhere in the world then you are among a relatively small group of people. Without a comprehensive network of hydrogen filling stations such as the one in Swindon there is little incentive to buy a hydrogen car, and of course without the cars on the road there is little incentive for the fuel companies to invest in hydrogen generating infrastructure such as the ITM Power electrolysis units that seem to drive so many of the existing installations. By comparison an electric car is a much safer bet; while the charging point network doesn’t rival the gasoline filling station network there are enough to service the electric motorist and a slow charge can be found from most domestic supplies.

A pipeline to deliver a pipe dream?

The 1970s, when a shiny new gas cooker solved everything.
The 1970s, when a shiny new gas cooker solved everything.

The hydrogen economy then has been something of a pipe dream for environmentalists, holding the promise of pollution-free energy but with barriers too steep for its likely adoption. It was welcome then that our attention was recently drawn via an Ars Technica article to a plan for a pilot hydrogen distribution scheme resulting from a tie-up between British and Norwegian domestic gas companies. They are suggesting the complete conversion from methane to hydrogen of the domestic natural gas distribution network covering a substantial part of Northern England, with the hydrogen being derived from catalytic reforming and the resulting carbon dioxide being sequestered in depleted oil and gas fields beneath the North Sea. It’s being sold as a blueprint for the decarbonisation of the natural gas industry, and while it still relies on a fossil feedstock rather than the environmentalist’s dream of sustainable electrolysis of seawater, it holds the promise of minmum atmospheric CO2 release that other projects such as the hydrogen-blending HyDeploy do not.

The report delves deeply into the economics of the project, but this is Hackaday. We’re more interested in the technology involved, and in what this development might mean for the future. And to fully understand it all, we first have to take a quick detour into the gas industry’s past.

A miracle of 1970s technology: a platform of the Frigg gas field in the Norwegian part of the North Sea. Knudsens Fotosenter / DEXTRA Photo [CC BY 4.0]
A miracle of 1970s technology: a platform of the Frigg gas field in the Norwegian part of the North Sea. Knudsens Fotosenter / DEXTRA Photo [CC BY 4.0]
When we think about domestic gas, it is almost certainly methane, so-called natural gas from underground fossil deposits. We have become used to its blue flame through countless TV adverts showing us clean and high-tech new boilers, cozy homes and mouthwatering food delivered from sparkling new cookers, but it’s not the gas our grandparents would have known. Their gas came from coal, and each and every town would have had a gas works, in effect a small chemical works in its own right, producing it locally without access to any national or regional grids. The gas itself was a mixture mostly composed of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and with a succession of purification steps was manufactured from coal by alternately heating it in a limited supply of air to produce carbon monoxide, then blasting it with high-pressure steam to produce hydrogen. It seemed the Older Generation had no end of tales of sooty and temperamental gas appliances, and the gas works themselves were notoriously dirty and polluted environments whose former sites are often still contaminated to this day.

In the later half of the 20th century with the arrival of plentiful supplies of methane natural gas, the industry was converted to this new source. New distribution grids were installed, and a huge operation was mounted in which engineers visited every gas customer to convert their appliances with new jets or burners to suit the different combustion properties of the new supply. For most of the UK for example this process was completed during the 1960s and 1970s, and it is into part of the resulting network and appliances that hydrogen is proposed to replace the methane.

Brittle cookers and not-so-brittle pipes

On the face of it then, the conversion of the network from methane to hydrogen should resemble that exercise from five decades ago. In fact it should even be simpler, because the gas grid that needed to be build for the switch to methane is already in place. But there’s a problem, and it stems from one of the unusual properties of hydrogen. A hydrogen molecule is tiny in the scheme of such things, and readily inserts itself into the crystal lattice of most metals. In some cases this is a desired property, for example there has been significant research into the possibility of storing hydrogen in this way in metallic palladium, but in the context of gas pipes or fittings there is a potential for disaster.

In forming what is in effect an alloy of the metal and hydrogen, the properties of the metal are radically changed; the phenomenon is referred to as hydrogen embrittlement. Low-pressure local gas mains in the UK are a distinctive yellow polypropylenethat is immune to embrittlement and strong enough that it has been used as fighting robot armour, but long-distance high-pressure pipelines are metal.  If the metal of a high-pressure gas main is embrittled in this way the results could be catastrophic, and if for example it happened to the metal parts of domestic cooking stoves designed for use with methane it could be responsible for gas leaks. The pilot scheme’s document goes into detail on the selection of carbon steel as the most suitable pipeline material, but is surprisingly light on the same topic for whatever metal fittings may be found at the user end.

The proposal is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in green energy and in hydrogen as an energy source in particular. As a decarbonisation solution to a natural gas network it is certainly bold, outlining the kind of project that should it go ahead will be cited by journal articles and historians in a century’s time, and as an introduction to hydrogen energy schemes for the uninformed it is certainly comprehensive.

Returning to the start of this article and those hydrogen cars, will it deliver hydrogen-powered motoring? It’s certainly true that a ready source of hydogen would make establishing a filling station network a much easier task, but while we admit that this may be one of those prophecies that doesn’t stand the test of time, we can’t quite see it. The early promise that existing internal combustion engined cars would readily convert to hydrogen has proved over-optimistic, fuel cell cars such as the Honda are expensive and early in their development, and meanwhile the uptake of electric cars appears to have leapfrogged both technologies. As you might expect, we want to believe, but it’s a significantly greater likelihood that we’ll be traveling to the hacker camps of the 2030s by electric rather than hydrogen power. That our homes will be heated using the new fuel by then though seems to be a distinct possibility.

Header image: Bexim [CC BY-SA 4.0].

106 thoughts on “The Hydrogen Economy May Be Coming Through Your Cooker

  1. I have read that hydrogen burning with air in an engine is hotter than hydrocarbons, and produces a lot more of the toxic nitrogen compounds that cause pollution and smog. Wiki does not mention this, but a physicist friend who was a consultant to road planners in Silicon Valley has said it is a serious problem.

      1. They do, and the irony is that using methane to power a fuel cell fits about four times more energy into a vehicle than you can ever do with plain hydrogen. Hydrogen has great energy density, but H2 itself is not dense, so a car the size of a VW Golf running on pure liquid hydrogen and a reasonably efficient fuel cell would get at most 12 MPG. Not only do you have nowhere to refuel it – you have to refuel it every few miles.

        The only reason for pushing H2 cars is that governments punish emissions of CO2 regardless of the source of the carbon, so they can’t use fuel cells that work on hydrocarbons even though they exist. That would be a legal dead end, because they’d have to conform to impossible energy efficiency standards that get tighter every five years. Already any vehicle that employs any sort of internal combustion, fuel cell or otherwise, has to do with half the power output of an electric vehicle if it is to pass the 2020 CO2/km standards in the EU.

        The H2 car is a dead end on all fronts, price, performance and safety. Hydrogen cars are just the automakers’ way to keep a foot in the door to see if by chance people would pull their heads out of their arses, so they can hit the ground running if the industry changes direction. In the mean while they’re just used to pay lip service to rules that demand a certain number of zero-carbon vehicles to be sold, for good PR, to make it seem like they’re making an effort.

          1. Buses and other heavy vehicles are subject to different rules than cars. They count per kWh output, where cars count per kilometer. In other words, a bus or a truck can emit as much carbon as you wish, as long as it’s done efficiently. You want to drag a boat anchor through the streets, go ahead.

            This means cars are subject to ever-tightening limitations on how much energy they may spend per km. Cars running on methane are subject to the same limitations. They get subsidies because the left hand of the government(s) don’t know what the right hand is doing.

            The 2015 regulations means an average (gasoline) consumption of 5.9 l/100km and for 2020 it drops to 4.1 l/100 km or the equivalent in methane.

          2. Although methane produces slightly less CO2 per kWh output – about 75% that of gasoline, so as a result a car running on methane can be slightly more powerful and bigger than a car running on gasoline, and still meet the EU emissions standards.

            The main issue is that the standards cannot distinguish between the source of the carbon – if you make a fuel cell vehicle that can run on methane, they can’t account that you run on biomethane vs. fossil fuel methane, so they treat you as if you were running on fossil fuels, which means the manufacturer of the vehicle has to conform to arbitrary limitations over gCO2/km which in turn limits the drag-area, mass, and engine power of the vehicles.

            Anything that does not directly emit carbon, such as electric cars or hydrogen cars, simply do not have these limitations because they are officially “carbon free”, even if you derived the electricity or H2 from the brownest tarriest coal, or by reforming the same natural gas that would be pumped into the methane car.

          3. For a bit of math:

            4.1 l/100km = 36 kWh/100km = 36 kW @ 100 kph. Adjusted for engine efficiency of 30% = 11 kW

            That’s 15 HP maximum average power over time. I’ve seen lawnmowers more powerful than that, and the limits are getting tighter all the time. The 2030 standard will be 30% lower still, which will require engine efficiencies in excess of 45% to maintain the 15 HP output.

        1. How in the world are you doing your math to come to 12 mpg? If your math is correct, then Honda is selling some serious snake oil by advertising the Clarity as having a fuel economy of 67 mpg-e. Really please do just the slightest bit of research before leaving your comments.

          @ “any vehicle that employs any sort of internal combustion, fuel cell or otherwise” From this comment it is clear you have no idea what you are saying, fuel cell operation is totally different from internal combustion.

          @ “H2 car is dead on all fronts, price, performance, and safety.” I would be absolutely amazed if you could produce a single piece of evidence to back up any of the three positions you just took. Of course hydrogen cars are expensive, fully electric cars were expensive when they first came on the market. As manufacturing of the cars increases and processes become more efficient, price will come down, just as we see happen with so many technologies, such as solar PV. And there is no evidence to show that the price of the vehicles is preventing them from being sold. As for performance, where do you see a lack of performance? How are you defining performance for your argument? Range? Their range is on average 300 miles. Power? 100kw from the electric motor seems to be just fine for traveling city streets and getting to highway speeds. Do you mean functionality when you say performance? They are sedan vehicles, you use them to go to from home to work, the store, school, the gym. What else do you need?
          And safety. What evidence do you have that these vehicles are not safe? Please educate us on what is lacking in the safety department. The hydrogen storage tanks are practically bullet proof. I would personally be more worried about flammable gas pooling under my vehicle than a hydrogen gas leak that is external to the passenger compartment that will immediately dissipate and float up into the atmosphere in the unlikely event that there is a leak.

          Hydrogen is preferred over hydrocarbon fuels because it generates zero emissions. You must recognize that as a clear advantage. Hydrogen while currently mostly produced through processes that utilize fossil fuels can be generated using electricity generated by renewable energy. If you look at electricity generated from renewable sources on the global stage you will find that already countries and states such as California are finding themselves with times during the day where electricity generation exceeds demand. This is a perfect way to utilize the excess energy. And as the world increases its capacity to generate electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and waves, the gap between supply and demand will only continue to grow. Technologies to store that excess energy such as hydrogen generation will only become more and more necessary.

          1. Thank You Phil. Former fuel cell researcher here (or, fuel cell researcher in remission). Well done.

            Last I heard (a couple of years ago) hydrogen available for cars in the SF Bay area was still made by steam reforming of hydrocarbons, but that’s not the only way you can make hydrogen.

          2. Reads like areas of opportunity to improve storage capacity and capabilities.

            I’ve read the combustion process with hydrogen boosted or powered vehicles can clean the air actually if the intake is filtered correctly. I don’t think this is going to work with the fuel cell method… which is an interesting method. Maybe hybrid fuel cell electric hydrogen combustion? Yeah… not sure on the later yet. Seems like a great materials science challenge in a few ways however.

            There are two distinct topics… hydrogen fuel cells electric and hydrogen ICE’s power trains.

            Maybe like hydroelectric power plant battery lakes with damns and pumping stations from the natural source of water… there can be underground sealed caverns that can be pressurized or at least have pressurized vessels to store gas to later generate electricity with?

            Seems more feasibly to have that mass produced in the consumer market directly in high volume sales of the electrolysis kit as a way to store energy at home for wind or hydro power systems or maybe even solar (though cells can be directed out of path) instead of wasting energy as heat… i.e. hydrogen stored for fuel and oxygen stored for health and maybe fuel also? I guess hydrogen might be capable to be used for health in some ways potentially also.

          3. “67 mpg-e” is a made up number of equivalent comparison.

            Liquid hydrogen has an energy density of 2.36 kWh/l which is 27% that of ordinary gasoline. All the direct storage options compromize with a very larger volume fuel tank to fit enough on-board, and the metal hydrides compromize by adding a tremendous amount of weight – the material holds some 5% of its own mass in hydrogen at best, so it’s hardly any better (or any cheaper) than electric batteries.

            And the safety issues are numerous, like spilling the contents of a metal hydride tank, which causes it to self-ignite due to the metals reacting with air. With large volumes of hydrogen and air present, the result is an explosion.

          4. The naughty secret of the trade is, that a hydrogen fuel cell isn’t really any better than a good diesel engine. They can boast 50-60% efficiencies in the lab, but that’s at negligible power output. When you start to load the cell, the practical efficiency drops to about 40% which makes them comparable with IC engines.

            Hence, if you’re getting 45 MPG (mind the MPG gap) out of your car and you switch to a fuel cell vehicle running on the densest form of hydrogen available, you’re hardy going to get any better than 12 MPG.

          5. >” fuel cell operation is totally different from internal combustion.”

            It is essentially combustion, and it happens internally. Don’t get caught up on semantics.

            >”there is no evidence to show that the price of the vehicles is preventing them from being sold”

            You’d have to be blind not to notice, that the average person does not drive a $100k car. If you’re making parallels with electric vehicles and their price development, you’re hardly making a point as it is.

            > “Range? Their range is on average 300 miles.”

            And the cheapest diesel Jetta drives 1000 miles on a tank. Your point? The H2 car suffers from the same range anxiety as electric cars, taking much of the volume of the vehicle for large expensive composite gas tanks and still not getting any better range.

            The safety of the fuel is dubious at best, its one of the least favorable gasses to use in a consumer system where people need to handle connecting hoses and dealing with breakdowns. H2 explosive limits are 5 – 75% in air; it’s also one of the fastest gasses to diffuse around, and when mixed with air it loses its lift that would safely carry it up and away. In essence, the safety aspect of a H2 vehicle is banking on the idea that the fuel tanks just don’t break or leak, especially anywhere indoors, under an overpass, in a tunnel… because the result can be a very large bang.

            >”What else do you need?”

            That’s missing the point: H2 doesn’t solve any problem any other technology wouldn’t. It just makes further compromises. I can get the same and better performance out of a ethanol/methanol fuel cell for example. The only thing going for it is that it’s “zero-carbon”, which it really isn’t.

          6. @ Luke
            How are you going to go from 45 mpg in an internal combustion car to 12 mpg in a hydrogen car? It is very hard to follow without going into your conversions considering the hydrogen car fuels up with a gas and the internal combustion car fuels up with a liquid.
            If you look at the energy density of each fuel and break things down by how many mega joules are needed by each car to travel 1 mile then the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle comes out as more efficient. My scratch paper calculations gave me 2.9465 MJ per mile for your 45 mpg internal combustion car, and 2.2756 MJ per mile for the hydrogen car.
            These calculations used wikipedia energy densities and range / fuel capacity information for the Toyota Mirai.

            If you see where I may have gotten myself confused I would be very happy for you to point it out so I can strengthen my understanding of the subject.

          7. 67mpg is (as a random coincidence) exactly what I got out of a diesel engine on a 500 mile drive last weekend.
            (This was with the cruise control set to 75mph, Ford Focus 2-litre diesel)
            The vehicle definitely output more NOx than the fuel cell car, but I winder how the total CO2 compares with the hydrogen generation?

          8. @PhillS

            The 12 MPG comparison is made to liquid hydrogen. Anything else takes tremendously more volume and/or mass. The tanks in a FCV Mirai for example weigh 87.5 kg yet they hold only 5 kg of H2 at 10,000 PSI pressure. That’s just a bomb on wheels.

          9. >”states such as California are finding themselves with times during the day where electricity generation exceeds demand. ”

            That’s only because they’re subsidized to do it. If the government didn’t pay them to overproduce, nobody would, because the prices would be too low during the time that everyone’s producing power at the same time.

            The expectation is that somebody would find some use for the power, so they’d pay a decent price and the subsidies could be dropped eventually, but that’s not going to happen. Natural gas costs 1-2 cents per kWh at the pipeline – solar power turned to hydrogen is at least 10x more expensive – it only works as long as the power prices are near-zero, which only happens as long as the subsidies keep flowing – which doesn’t exactly make it a cheap fuel. Cheap to the rich turd who can afford a $100k hydrogen car, not so cheap to the working poor who have to pay it.

            And secondly, if you can produce hydrogen out of renewable power, you can nearly as easily produce hydrocarbons and avoid all the issues involved with storing, transporting and using H2 in a safe manner. Power to methane plants already exist.

        2. Complete rubbish. If H2 cars are a “dead end” why has China prioritized the tech? See: Made in China 2025. As you read this, fuel cells are being mass produced. There are “hydrogen corridors” and every month more H2 buses roll out there. You need to bring yourself up to date.

          1. Why is China turning coal into methanol and then complaining about smog when they put it through car engines? (Hint. it turns into formaldehyde)

            Answer: Governments aren’t often very rational about their policies.

            Assuming that a technology makes sense because a government is trying to appropriate it is backwards thinking. See Germany and the energy-swindle of replacing nuclear power with windmills and coal power.

          2. Point being that China is playing political games. The H2 comes from fossil fuels, just like how the solar panels they make are turned out by coal power. Hydrogen corridor – much like the ghost cities: an excuse to pay someone a great deal of public money while making yourself look good.

            For a semi-fixed infrastructure like a bus, hydrogen may be workable, but really if you were to be honest it would much better be fueled directly with the natural gas they use to make the hydrogen – and that’s what makes H2 a dead end. It only ever exists because of this need to pretend that you’re doing something about something while not doing much anything really.

    1. A quick search gives:
      “Typically hydrogen engines are designed to use about twice
      as much air as theoretically required for complete combustion. At this air/fuel ratio, the formation of NOx is reduced
      to near zero. Unfortunately, this also reduces the power output to about half that of a similarly sized gasoline engine. To make up for the power loss, hydrogen engines are usually
      larger than gasoline engines, and/or are equipped with turbochargers or superchargers.”
      From https://www1.eere.energy.gov/hydrogenandfuelcells/tech_validation/pdfs/fcm03r0.pdf

        1. Maybe the twice-as-much air means half the combustion temperature, and that reduces the NOx formation?
          Typically modern engines reduce the availability of oxygen to reduce NOx (using EGR to tailor the intake charge to have only just enough oxygen to burn the fuel, leaving very little left over to burn the N2).
          Running with twice the air with a hydrogen engine seems to equate to running at half-pedal with a diesel engine (where cylinder filling is not reduced by a throttle plate) and it would come as no surprise to find that in that case the result is half the power and half the emissions.

  2. It was the “old gas” as opposed to the “new gas” that made sticking your head in an oven a suicide mechanism. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that committing suicide in a methane-supplied oven would be *impossible*, the mechanism would be oxygen displacement rather than carbon monoxide poisoning, which is harder to achieve without a sealed environment.

  3. There are a fair number of H2 fuel cell powered vehicles in Silicon Valley. One of my co-workers had one of the Hondas, I’d see the Honda or Toyota model from time to time stuck in traffic on the Sunol Grade. My coworker said there were three or four H2 filling stations in the vicinity. For the heck of it, I looked and there’s one a couple of miles from my house.

    The cars are rare, but not that rare around here.

    1. I’ve been waiting for the diesel hybrid electric. Seems an area of opportunity to bring lighter weight and lower cost maintenance cleaner diesels that can operate on a broader range of fuels (including hydrogen boosted) to the PHEV market. I thought Toyota was working on this for the Prius… would be nice if the big three would also or maybe Detroit Diesel.

  4. Domestic central heating boilers are already a significant source of NOx (14% in London according to https://policyexchange.org.uk/why-london-needs-a-boiler-scrappage-scheme/ and since then NOx from vehicles has (probably) been cut significantly. )
    It might be that Hydrogen makes less NOx (in a condensing boiler it would probably dissolve in the water to make nice harmless nitric acid…) Or it might make more. But it is likely to make some.

    Can’t we just throw _enormous_ amounts of money at Nuclear Fusion, and solve all the problems?

    1. More than 20 years ago Freeman Dyson ruefully concluded that if a break-even fusion reactor was ever developed, it would be so complex that every power plant would need a squad of PhD’s to keep it running.

      There are a lot of things that seem great in the lab but run into insurmountable problems scaling up to mass production. Cellulosic ethanol being a recent example.

          1. Actually you could just build a heat engine using the hot air from a politician as a heat source and the frigid heart of a bureaucrat as a heat sink and you are good to go considering both heat source and heat sink are unlimited. :-)

  5. Coal gas was originally a mixture of CO, CH4, a few other light hydrocarbons, ethylene etc., and a small remainder was hydrogen. This gas was produced from brown coal in the process of coking it for steelmaking, and it didn’t involve a water gas shift reaction but instead just destructive distillation.

    It was used for streetlights, so high carbon content was a measure of quality – high hydrogen content would make it burn with an invisible flame. “Water gas” using the steam process wasn’t used everywhere, but for special applications like fueling engines.

    1. “his gas was produced from brown coal in the process of coking it for steelmaking,”

      So, in opposition to what [Jenny] wrote…

      The Hydrogen Economy may be coming through your COKER!
      B^)

  6. “By comparison an electric car is a much safer bet; while the charging point network doesn’t rival the gasoline filling station network there are enough to service the electric motorist” Uhmmmm…. the charging point network?? What about everyone’s house? If you live in a house (I understand some people don’t), you have a charging point, if you have electricity in your house. (I also understand some people don’t, but they’re usually in a situation where they can’t afford an electric car either).

    If you live in the suburbs, you live in a house with electricity, in most cases. If you live in the city in apartments and your car can’t access your house electrical, maybe use public transit?

    Anyways, this is one of the most baffling things about electric car “infrastructure” that I encounter: people think a filling station like a gasoline station is needed. It isn’t.

        1. Yes, that is pretty well true. My household does not have a lot of money at all but I *DO* own my own home free and clear so I *CAN* spend a small amount to install a charging station on my own wall. I also *CAN* buy a three-year-old EV off lease for ~$9600 and drive it around town and save a lot on gas and maintenance. (cheapest way to get around that I know without human-power) If I didn’t have my own place in my own garage to charge my EV, I would not really find one practical without a guaranteed place to plug in. But I do have one…so hooray!! EV ownership right now is still somewhat a niche thing and so the context has to be right for having an EV to be right, but you don’t have to be made of money. It’s all about context. I don’t like going on long trips but I do like running about getting errands done and being my kid’s Uber so they can be where they need to be in their activities. The limited range of my older Nissan LEAF is still more than adequate. (and the heater is the fastest in town too which is wonderful in the winter:-) )

          1. So let’s see, you’d pay about $15,000 for the car and charger installation, then for the electricity for the remaining 5-6 years that the batteries last.

            I would just buy a $5,000 regular second hand car. $10k buys a lot of gasoline and maintenance.

    1. “Anyways, this is one of the most baffling things about electric car “infrastructure” that I encounter: people think a filling station like a gasoline station is needed. It isn’t.”

      Might have to upgrade the electrical a bit. Modern houses are pushing ever more towards mostly/all electrical.

      1. An electric car in every house roughly doubles the household electricity demand from the present.

        The trouble is that a reasonably ranged electric car takes two days to charge from a regular socket. Assume 2 kW and 8 hours overnight, with a power consumption of 380 Wh per mile – that’s 42 miles and that’s it. Just barely enough to go to work and back.

        That is, unless you also pay $5000-$9000 extra to upgrade the house electrics and buy a level 2 charger. Then again, you could buy a second car for that money.

          1. It’s what you get out of a regular socket.

            It’s not just a matter of plugging in to a free outlet, because the car isn’t aware of how much power you have available, hence why the Level 2 or 3 chargers that you have to buy, install, and use.

            Tesla cars for example have a problem of quitting charge in the middle of the night, because they’re trying to be clever and monitor the voltage to see if there’s a connection problem. If the voltage dips, they stop charging. That happens randomly. They’d need the charging station to tell them it’s OK to continue, but since you’re plugging to a dumb outlet, trying to resume the charge could lead to burning down your house and a massive lawsuit for Tesla.

        1. Most houses or apartments in the US have at least 1 30A x 220V (220, 240, whatever it takes) outlet giving you 6kW or 120mi assuming all the math scales linearly (it doesn’t).
          Even if you get 70 miles on an overnight charge, You’re assuming you won’t have access to an outlet at work, which is a decreasing likelihood. I see electric car only parking spots often enough.

          1. You may have access, but do you have permission to spend someone else’s electricity?

            In order to get 220 V high amperage outlet for your car, you’re basically installing a Level 2 charger.
            https://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/garages/install-an-electric-vehicle-charging-station/

            If you’ve got everything in place, getting a Level 2 charging outlet should be around $2000. If not, you can look to spend upwards of $20,000 to build a new charging post or garage for your car, permits and all.

          2. What are you talking about? It’s your house or apartment. You aren’t stealing electricity, you’re buying it through your normal electric bill or using it through an arrangement with your employer or parking garage.

          3. I agree with Luke about hydrogen, it’s a nightmare fuel in every way except politically and every government just hopes the technology will make it work. The electricity argument doesn’t work in the UK at least. A simple 3 pin plug here is rated for 15A at 240V and they are on 30A ring mains. Any house with an electric cooker normally has it on a 60A circuit.

            We’re at the stage where high density batteries are fireworks when they develop a fault. This is a pretty basic consequence of having that much energy in that amount of space. I don’t see how batteries can improve without becoming more dangerous, we’ll have to move to some sort of fuel cell.

    2. Recharging at home is fine for commute vehicles. I’ve been doing it for five years now. But ‘mericans like to take road trips. And that’s where electric cars fall apart.

      The equivalent energy flow of filling a gasoline tank is about 6 megawatts. Unless major highway EVSEs come with a Mr. Fusion, I don’t know how an all electric transportation system for the US gives us a non-degraded level of service.

      1. I suspect either swappable batteries (which require a very different physical structure of the car than what Tesla has done), or series hybrids.

        With a series hybrid, it’s a normal battery-EV but with a small, efficient generator hanging off the back to charge the batteries. No need for the monstrously complex parallel-hybrid transfer gearbox seen in a Prius and the generator engine can be very small and efficient because it needs to run only a single speed/power. By taking away the need to control the engine’s power output (tractability), it can be simpler and more efficient.

        Imagine a Tesla with a little 15HP diesel generator in the boot. All the efficiency benefits of an EV for short trips, all the high-power niceness of an EV, and the ability to trickle along for a thousand miles if you add the generator option.

        1. I actually think it’s easier than that.

          Pusher trailers.

          There have been numerous one-off examples over the years. The most promising one was actually a test system one of the Japanese manufacturers were using. I believe it had a 90cc engine. Small potatoes, yes, but all it had to do was maintain highway cruise and let the EV itself handle everything else.

          People with EVs don’t even need to own them outright at all. They could just rent them for road trips. It’d be far, far less friction than renting a car. The EV industry could come up with a standard interface for them, even. Since most folks would be renting them, then maintenance and emissions compliance and the like would get amortized by the folks renting them out.

  7. If the solution for Mars is: solar energy + CO2 + water vapour == methane + oxygen then why not use this right here? The distribution infrastructure is already in place. Methane can be stored without much trouble (unlike electricity). The carbon footprint is zero.

      1. This is true, but at the same time, it’s not alchemy. Manufacturing hydrocarbon fuels is very likely going to be a part of a carbon-neutral future, at least, if we have enough time.

  8. Ballard power produced h2 powered busses for Coast Mountain busses in Vancouver BC. However the cost of operating the busses was higher because of the expense of driving the fuel up from Houston. The only factory that produces liquid hydrogen in North America was built for the Apollo Space Program.

    1. I’m not normally big on Hydrogen as a vehicle fuel but for busses… can they do school busses? ANYTHING could be an improvement. I go to drop my kid off to school and they have all those Diesel powered beasts idling right in front of the door…. that nasty fog… Maybe they could switch to steam engines and boil Fukushimi effluent in them. It can’t be worse than the cloud they already produce! If I ever meet Elon Musk I will be begging him to start an electric school bus program. It would have been a lot better before the current president. Maybe he could have gotten a federal subsidy on it. For our children!

      1. Look up the electric shuttle buses in Chattanooga, TN. They’ve been running those since the early 1990’s. Originally used lead-acid, but have moved to other types. Aside from some initial federal funding to get started, the shuttles are funded by a cut of parking lot charges and donation boxes on each bus and at the stations. No charge to ride but they only run a loop on the two main streets through the city and a loop across the bridge to the east side of the river. BTW, if you love BBQ, try Sticky Fingers. One of the shuttle bus stops is right in front of it.

      2. Maybe an area of opportunity to generate more hydrogen sales with a little helium for external combustion engine systems development. Use something denser to store for the heat source… like a thermonuclear source… ok… that is pushing it… still.

        Seems people like telecommunications towers that are looking more like space systems telecommunications stations… though complain about wind turbines being an eye sore. Why not create arial towers with solar concentrating dish external combustion engine generators/alternators systems to create more jobs that are lower clearance also. Seems they’ll complain if the systems are arial solar concentrating trough power plants. Amazing…

  9. Meh

    Every so often someone comes around touting hydrogen as a clean energy source. The problem is that hydrogen is not an energy source. Hydrogen is an energy storage medium. You don’t find hydrogen by itself in nature. You have to rip it out of some other molecule which takes more energy than you get by recombinging (burning) it. If anyone ever finds a clean energy source to use for doing this they might as well just use that same energy to charge a battery! It certainly beats driving around in the mini Hindenburg. Oh the humanity!

    1. You could not be more right about the frustration with people calling hydrogen an energy source. An advantage that hydrogen has over batteries however is weight. When considering transportation applications, increasing the quantity of hydrogen to increase the range of the vehicle adds much less weight than would be added if batteries were used for the equivalent amount of added range. For industrial applications of simply storing excess energy, to add capacity you simply need to add the storage casks which require much less materials to construct than the batteries needed to store the equivalent amount of energy.
      BTW, in 1997 it was concluded that the Hindenburg accident was caused by the flammable nature of the vessel’s skin and not the hydrogen inside it.

      1. It wasn’t the skin that burned in a huge ball of flame – that was the hydrogen. The blimp’s skin being made out of rocket fuel is the myth. In further tests, it did sustain a smouldering fire after being heated for a while by a blowtorch, and it was probably a hydrogen flame from a leak that ignited it in the first place. Once the gas bladders ruptured with a larger hole, the hydrogen flames went up at an accelerating rate, setting the whole thing on fire within seconds.

        Hydrogen has the unfavorable property of being the easiest gas to ignite. It takes about 0.2 Joules of energy to start the combustion, so a bit of static electricity can spark it off. In small amounts it burns with an invisible flame, and in large fireballs it has a cherry red or orange appearance.

  10. My home town in Upstate New York started a huge and phenomenally costly and disruptive project around 2000 or so to clean up after the old gasworks as it had a mile or two of piping buried under residential neighborhoods filled with waste coal tar that was soaking all sorts of nasty petroleum byproducts through the rotten wooden pipes. There was even a school hosted in the old gasworks for a while (before anyone really came to grips with just how much toxic sludge was offgassing under the floor).

  11. What many people don’t realize about internal combustion engines is they really are hot nitrogen engines. Nitrogen makes up around 70% of air. ICE’s function by combustion of the fuel with the ~20% oxygen content of air.

    The nitrogen and trace amounts of other gasses get heated and expanded rapidly to drive the pistons down their cylinder bores. The combustion byproducts of the fuel-air reaction contribute a minority % of the force.

    That’s why a setup electrolyzing water then feeding *only that gas* into an ICE, with no other gas (the air) into the intake cannot work. Firstly because there’s none of the large amount of nitrogen as a ‘working fluid’ and secondly because a 1:2 ratio of oxygen to hydrogen is nowhere near the stoichiometric ratio for pure oxygen / hydrogen combustion.

    In short, if you’ve seen that Mythbusters episode where they used a car with a huge V8 then *completely blocked the carb inlet* except for a 1/4″ line from the device they built – it was deliberately setup so it couldn’t possibly work*. If they’d used a lawnmower engine and just poked the line into the *open* carb throat, that *might* have run a small engine.

    *They did such a thing in at least one other episode, with the tooth fillings radio reception myth. Went on and on about the possibility of dissimilar metals touching making a point contact diode, then in the test they put the two metals in teeth on opposite sides of the jawbone to make sure it couldn’t work to “bust” the myth.

    1. Please recalculate: 1:2 IS the stoichiometric ratio. But you can not use it, not even in rocket engines. First, the flame temperature is way too high, too destructive, above 3000°C. You would have to build your engine from tungsten.
      Second, as you correctly state, you need a “working fluid”, e.g. nitrogen as in combustion with air, or hydrogen itself, what us used in the rocket engine. The reason is the lightness of H2 in that case. When every kg of mass transported costs you a multiple of that in fuel, weight is the most important criterium, and any other gas would be heavier (and require another tank). There a ratio of 1:6 or something is used.

  12. >>” engineers visited every gas customer to convert their appliances”

    You need an engineering degree in Britain to fix appliances? I suppose everyone who brushes his teeth becomes a dentist.

    Engineering is a profession. Appliance repair persons are at best technicians.

    1. I felt like a Pharmacist working in England at times since I am degree’d, and casually earned my degree with a range of other controversial related topics advocacy and research, as an A.C.S. certified Biochemistry concentration B.S. in Chemistry. Being a Chemist… I was told that on more than one occasion… I’m like a Druggist or like a Pharmacist in the States. I am qualified as a Chemist, though they have RSC certified and Chartered statuses that are different than in the U.S. That was back when about 2 USD equaled 1 GPB. Not sure the details of the Engineering qualification… I didn’t follow through with my Chemical or General Engineering curricula.

      1. So if I went to a Doctor in England and asked him the way to the nearest pub, he could scribble something on a piece of paper and tell me to take it over to you and you could then read it and point out just where I need to go to get a pint or two? (Ever see that obscure Monty Python’s Flying Circus skit?) :-)

        1. Actually Monty Python’s Flying Circus hasn’t been seen on the BBC, it’s owners, for about 20 years. I realise Americans think we sit around watching the 24 hour Monty Python channel, with Fawlty Towers on weekends, but actually, no. Our comedies typically only have 6 episodes per series because they’re written by writers, not enormous rooms full of gag technicians.

          1. I know Monty python is extremely retro… aproaching 50 years now? I have also noticed the 6 episode per season pattern in British shows. (First noticed it in Red Dwarf) Another interesting thing and potential trip-up is that in America we generally use the word “series” as the entire collection of a tv show from its first year to its last. I get the impression that when Brit’s say it they mean just one year, what the Americans could call a “season”. I figure it’s just another one of those “boot” vs “trunk” or “torch” vs “flashlight” things. Another major filter we Americans get when viewing British culture is PBS which generally plays ancient BBC shows for our amusement. I know TV has moved on at both sides of the Atlantic and I wouldn’t call it progress on either end. TV is dead IMHO, but there were a lot of old classics and so I tend to cherish them…and some of them are British. :-) (Yes, my favorite Doctor is Jon Pertwee with Tom Baker as a second. The more recent remake of Doctor Who is fun but it lacks the family-friendliness and charm of the previous run, but I’m not cheesy special effect averse either.) …Cheers!!

    2. Alas, in the UK the term “engineer” is not a protected term so anyone can take it (see also heating engineer, aircon engineer, plumbing engineer, etc). The only thing that people working on gas appliances must be is “gas safe” registered (used to be termed “Corgi” registered).

      1. I don’t think that’s worthy of ‘alas’, it’s just using the word differently from Americans. We have engineers and chartered engineers, much as we have accountants and chartered accountants.

  13. Gas vs Diesel vs EVs vs Hydrogen vs Human Powered. They are all options. None are intrinsically good or bad. Throw in a context and one usually ends up on top as best. If your job is just a block away, walk!! If its 70 miles away and you aren’t made of money and can’t afford a Tesla, get a gas unit. If you work in the same small town you live in, buy a cheap low-end EV like a Nissan LEAF. Need to tow something from time to time get a diesel powered pickup. You use the tool that works best for you in your context. We certainly don’t need to get carried away arguing although evangelizing your favorite technology is OK as long as it stays friendly.

    For instance I’ve got the fastest car in my community of ~10000 people and I love it. It can go from zero 70 degrees Fahrenheit faster than any other car in town (2015 Nissan LEAF) The heater is electric, gets hot instantly, and the car also runs the AC/Heat-Pump too so the car warms up wicked-fast in the winter. It’s wonderful if you’ve got energy to waste in reserve. (It’s a quick little car around town too) One strength for one particular tool. If a tool has the strengths you need, use it and enjoy!!

    1. The trouble is that (leaving out the human-powered context) most of those “tools” cost a substantial fraction of the average annual household buying power in the U.S. People can only afford to own one.

      Now, you can bring up alternatives to ownership – from traditional renting to Uber – but they’re not generally how things work today, and inertia in the market is a bitch.

      1. I agree with what you say about the auto market. Now that I think about it, it makes sense that it is so resistant to change. Virtually every vehicle is purchased by an individual and each individual has to be convinced one at a time towards any new idea. There are a few fleets like rental companies and government vehicle pools but that’s about it. People are getting harder to reach than ever before too with such diverse bombardment of media coming at everyone from every direction. Have you tried the new Flex-Tape?!! It’s absolutely fantastic!! It can fix anything!! And it can be all yours for just three payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling!! ;-) ( …I just sawed this boat in half!!…Yea, like I should take seriously anthing said after that statement. {sarcasm} :-) )

    1. Well in your example it will be contaminated with beard oil and overpriced coffee.

      But generally the by-products of coal are a load of unpleasant stuff, hipsters being only one of many.

  14. The norwegian gas/oil companies are run as for profit enterprises with profits going into a wealth fund to aid the populous. They answer to the Norwegian people/government.
    The UK gas/oil companies are for profit where the profits go to shareholders. They answer to the shareholders only.

    The selling off of infrastructure in the UK was a gigantic criminal act.
    Nationalised energy is the only real way of ensuring investment and certainly any green commitments.
    Companies producing profit for shareholders will never produce those results as by definition it is not their number one priority.
    What holds back the UK energy sector are the corporate monopolies in place and profit above all other aspects.

      1. You export the resources you do have but spend the profit on an infrastructure for the future, not squandering it on dividends.
        Take a look at what Saudi are finally figuring out.

        PS: the Tesla option in Norway is competative because of the extremely high taxation on ICE vehicles which electric doesn’t attract. Plus other benefits, it just happens they are also green when powered from mainly hydro electricity, and where most car parks have a electric plugin for winter heater…

  15. I was under the impression the hydrogen car was a red herring, between oil companies floundering and wondering what to do now that pollution was seen as a bad thing, and the invention of practical electric cars.

    As long as hydrogen is produced from natural gas, it’s never going to be carbon-neutral. What do they do with the carbon, when they’re reforming methane into H2? Hopefully if it ends up in the atmosphere they at least get some energy out of it. The proliferation of hydrogen adverts in the early 2000s, made by fossil fuel companies, was as much a serious attempt to manage pollution as their sticking solar panels on the roofs of their petrol stations.

    Until someone discovers a natural source of hydrogen (perhaps we can import it from outer space in disused Soyuzes?), how is it ever going to be a solution for anything? Electrolysis has never been on the drawing board as a practical source. Unless you’ve got a desperate need to waste electricity, it never will be.

  16. I am new to the field of fuel cells so I may be missing a point but exactly what sorts of pressure would a fuel cell be under with hydrogen? I know a natural gas powered cars usually fill up to 3600 PSI. in the event of a crash the tank pressure is such that if a source of ignition were there, the gas could only ignite several feet away from the tank rupture allowing occupants distance to escape. how would a hydrogen tank fare with its very different fuel air ignition ratios?

    Oil refining isn’t going away. so instead of venting a greenhouse gas to the atmosphere as we used to, why not use the methane that comes along with the crude oil? we already have pipes laid for it all over. In engines, it runs pretty much the same as regular gasoline (and in fact you can run both fuels for more mileage or switch between them if the price is right). You wouldn’t have to redesign engines to deal with embrittlement.

    It seems to me that there would be a ludicrous amount of engineering, plumbing, financing, and infrastructure building to make hydrogen a viable alternative fuel. Especially when we already have the ability to use methane much more readily.

    1. It would fare quite badly.

      The fuel cell and the fuel lines aren’t under very much pressure, but the tank itself is at about 10,000 PSI, and hydrogen itself goes up like hell’s bells if you put it near a flame.

      Methane quickly forms a mixture that is too rich to burn, keeping a flame around the edges only, whereas hydrogen doesn’t, which is why hydrogen doesn’t sustain a nice flame – it spreads around until it finds a source of ignition and the the whole cloud of gas explodes all the way back to the tank. Happens often in power stations, where pressurized hydrogen is used as a coolant in generators.

  17. Hydrogen embrittlement was a major topic at my ME graduate school in the mid 2000’s (when fuel cells were still ‘the future’). Without replacing the entire infrastructure, I am not sure how you can protect existing hardware. Seems like a non-starter.

  18. I once toured a factory which made fuel cells for the cell tower industry. They piped hydrogen around the building in poly piping. The facilities manager was constantly aware of the dangers of a H2 leak. Hyrogen has a tendency to buildup, it’s odorless and burns almost completely invisible. The only way you’d know of an H2 fire is if plastic parts around you started melting rapidly. If it’s that dangerous in the laboratory then I am not sure it’s ready for domestic use. At the very least something will need to be added to it to give it odor and a visible flame. Those additives will also need to be certified environmentally safe as well as not contaminate fuel cell processes.

  19. Hydrogen really doesn’t like being away from Oxygen
    I’ve video showing a leak, it seems to combine with Oxygen (Air) and form a large cloud.(H2O mist)
    Hydrogen tanks are limited quantity, and even if ignited, would burn out quickly.
    CNG, (Methane) has a lower energy density than gasoline, and the Honda CNG engine uses forged crankshaft, rods and pistons with a high compression ratio, just to equal the gas engine in power.
    Several companies are selling the Hydrogen fuel cell concept. Hyundai for one,
    Four years ago, Toyota displayed one at the Los Angeles Auto show.
    The real laugh is the “Flex Fuel” concept that was forced on the makers.
    Ethanol is 30% oxygen by weight, and fuel economy is right in the toilet. What a joke. (For the UK, Water Closet)
    Early CNG cars had composite tanks, and only were certified for 10 years.
    Newer tanks were upped to 15 years. Any accident, tanks need to be inspected, any damage, replaced.
    CNG tanks can’t be repaired.
    Choose your alternate fuels carefully..

    1. My cousin fabricated a Hydrogen jug to extract the gas. Fitted to his motor home, it increased his mileage by 4 mpg.
      The jug required cleaning every few months, but he seemed happy with the process.

  20. Someone good with quick back of the envelope calculations, tell me how ridiculous it would be to just add a mass-spec inline on an gasoline engine and just sort of the Nitrogen so NOx wasn’t produced.

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